General Barry R. McCaffrey, USA (Ret.)
America has 2.3 million men and women in its armed forces, deployed in 5,000 different places with an astonishing array of technology, training, leadership, and capability. More than 400,000 of our troops have been deployed three or more times, and the almost full-time commitment of America’s Reserve component was essential to prosecuting the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. In this inaugural Colonel James D. McGinley Lecture, General Barry McCaffrey, USA (Ret.), looks at the very real threats the United States faces in today’s uncertain world and what our armed forces—the most trusted institution in American society—must have to counter those threats. He discusses in detail the institutional context of national security, the specific threats that America faces, and where America is likely to be 20 years in the future.
Brigadier General Thomas V. Draude: It is a real honor and pleasure to be with you today to co-host this most worthwhile endeavor with The Heritage Foundation. We’re just delighted.
Basically, our foundation provides resources to enhance and enrich professional military education and leadership to those attending the Marine Corps University as well as the operating forces and supporting establishment. So we believe that we change lives and save lives and hope that you would consider supporting us.
I also have the honor to introduce Jim Carafano, who is The Heritage Foundation’s Vice President for Foreign and Defense Policy Studies, E.W. Richardson Fellow, and Director of the Kathryn and Shelby Cullom Davis Institute for International Studies. In addition to a recent book, Wiki at War: Conflict in a Socially Networked World, Jim is a West Point graduate, served 25 years in the Army, retired as a lieutenant colonel, and holds a master’s degree and PhD from Georgetown. Jim is also one of our trustees for the Marine Corps University Foundation.
Please join me in welcoming Jim Carafano.
—Brigadier General Thomas V. Draude, USMC (Ret.), is President and CEO of the Marine Corps University Foundation.
James Jay Carafano: For me, this is like Christmas in November. First of all, it’s amazing to partner with the Marine Corps University Foundation, which is an outstanding institution supporting Marine Corps University, a crown jewel of professional military education in the United States. It’s an honor to be associated with them in any way.
To have General McCaffrey here is just incredible; he is not just a great soldier and a great veteran, but a national security treasure, so to have an opportunity to hear him today is awesome. It is also an honor and privilege to introduce the benefactors of this lecture series.
Colonel James McGinley has spent his career protecting American interests both at home and abroad. At home, he had a noteworthy legal career protecting individuals from insurance bad faith practices by HMOs. In 1996, his success as a litigation partner was highlighted in a cover story in Time magazine. Separately, Colonel McGinley has served a distinguished 30-year career as a naval aviator in the United States Marine Corps. Focusing his leadership skills abroad, he volunteered for three combat tours and has earned both the Legion of Merit and the Bronze Star. He retired from the Marine Corps in April of this year.
Maribeth Walton McGinley has spent her life dedicated to conservative principles since the 1980s when she received golden records for art directing the albums ET: The Extraterrestrial and Return of the Jedi. Maribeth has earned an admirable reputation for successful business ownership and creative development focused on the entertainment industry. In 2002, she was appointed by President George W. Bush and confirmed by the full Senate to serve a six-year term as a member of the National Council on the Arts.
The McGinleys have a special relationship with Heritage dating back to its earliest days. After serving as the Secretary of Business and Transportation for then-Governor Reagan, Maribeth’s father, the Honorable Frank J. Walton, served as President of The Heritage Foundation from 1975 to 1977.
The McGinleys are dedicated to the national security of the United States, and we at The Heritage Foundation, together with the Marine Corps University Foundation, are proud and honored that these two patriots, through the annual Colonel James D. McGinley Lecture series, have associated their name with a really important series of lectures. Both The Heritage Foundation and the Marine Corps University Foundation are dedicated to educating the United States and its leaders on vital national security issues. Every year, this lecture will serve to educate and remind us of the need for a strong national defense by looking at the very real threats this nation faces and what we can do to stop them.
Colonel James D. McGinley: It truly is an honor to provide just a bit of structure for what Heritage brings in the way of scholarship and focus it on national security. We were genuinely excited with that opportunity, and we thank you.
I get the privilege today of introducing one of America’s great military leaders, General Barry McCaffrey. Many of you have seen General McCaffrey on TV lending his expert advice and counsel to all of us on national security issues. I think it’s oftentimes very important to look to see how general and flag officers transition from their roles within government and how they then take and capitalize on that foundation of expertise.
Let me run through his bio very quickly. General McCaffrey served in the United States Army for 32 years and retired as a four-star general. At retirement, he was the most highly decorated serving general, having been awarded three Purple Heart medals for wounds received in his four combat tours, as well as twice awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second-highest award for valor. In addition, he was twice awarded the Silver Star for valor.
For five years after leaving the military, General McCaffrey served as the nation’s Cabinet officer in charge of U.S. drug policy. Prior to confirmation as the national drug policy director, General McCaffrey served as the Commander in Chief of the United States Armed Forces Southern Command, coordinating national security operations in Latin America. During his military career, he served overseas for 13 years and completed four combat tours. He commanded the 24th Infantry Division during Desert Storm and led the 400-kilometer left hook attack into Iraq.
General McCaffrey currently serves as the president of BR McCaffrey Associates, providing strategic counseling services to businesses, governments, and international organizations. Ladies and gentlemen, please join with me in welcoming General McCaffrey.
General Barry R. McCaffrey: Thank you very much, Jim, you and Maribeth, for funding this lecture and for your support of The Heritage Foundation, which does such a terrific job in adding objectivity to debate about major issues of our times. I really congratulate the two of you. I was dying to meet Jim and find out how somebody could be a big-time lawyer in California and also volunteering for combat duty in Iraq. So thanks for your career of service.
Jim Carafano has been a friend for many years. He does a terrific job here. I periodically appear at his behest or others’ to give talks, and Jim, I thank you for your intellectual leadership in these public policy debates.
Tom Draude, thank God for the United States Marine Corps. Tom and I have known each other for a long time. I guess we were both at Leavenworth, studious participants in the year-long course. Both of us remind people we were there as students, not as prisoners. Tom’s career of service has been absolutely brilliant, and I’m glad to see you here.
Let me talk about a couple of things: first of all, the context of national security, then the threat, and then possibly where we’re going in the future. I think the context is important.
The Institutional Context
The most important branch of government, bar none, is Congress. The reason is because they control the money. Colin Powell used to tell us, “Don’t tell me about your programs; tell me about your budgets.” They control the money. The standing of Congress in this society is the lowest of all the major institutions—normally in the single digits, 9 percent. How can you be an operative democracy with a legislative body with that kind of credibility?
You can’t be a free society without an aggressive, objective media. And yet the media, both TV and print, are well down below 50 percent.
The most trusted institution in American society, year after year, is the U.S. armed forces, followed quickly by law enforcement. There’s a reason for it. It’s because our boys and girls, our sons and daughters, write Mom and say, “I’m part of an institution of courage and integrity. They care about me as a person, and they’re developing me as a person.” An astonishing situation, the trust the American people have in their armed forces.
It always amuses me, the debate over new institutions of national security that we need and we should be building. A Public Health Service, a Border Patrol and Customs Service adequate to defend 5,000 miles of Canadian borders, 2,000 miles of Mexico, Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands, Caribbean—these institutions are anemic. We talk about whether we are overspending on the Transportation Security Administration at 40,000 people.
When you look at the Department of Defense, the largest department in our government, 2.3 million men and women in the armed forces are deployed globally in 5,000 different places with an astonishing array of technology, training, leadership, and capability. And it’s battle hardened. More than 400,000 of our troops have been deployed three or more times, and when we talk about the National Guard and the Reserves, we could not have prosecuted these two conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan without the almost full-time commitment of the Reserve component. It’s an astonishing capability.
I taught economics at West Point. When you look at our economy, we still have the largest economy on the face of the Earth, and depending on how you gauge it, the manufacturing sector still leads the rest of the world, particularly in many high-tech applications, IT, aviation, pharmaceuticals, etc. We’re still the leading agricultural producing nation. We’re now seeing the return of manufacturing, and there are a lot of reasons for that—3D printing, competitive costs of transportation. A lot of American firms have outsourced everything to include their back office to China and India and elsewhere and are now returning those business practices to the United States.
I taught this class up at Harvard, and their eyes widened when I said there’s a good argument that by 2020, we’ll be the leading oil-producing nation. We already have a massive increase in natural gas production, a tremendous change in what’s economically feasible given fracking, horizontal drilling, Canadian oil tar sands, etc. It’s just amazing. The conservation of energy expenditure has been dramatic over the last 15 years also. The percentage of our energy consumption that comes from foreign sources has dropped steadily year after year, and we really haven’t started because you can’t run an energy-efficient U.S. economy unless you include the use of nuclear power.
We now have five nuclear power plants that will come online in the coming 10 years, principally in the Southeast, but I think the bottom line is that that economic equation, although we’ve had terrible problems, is coming back. It was built upon 307 million people with tremendous educational basis with a deteriorating but a substantial national transportation infrastructure.
Now, when we talk about educational systems, we do have a problem. We need less people studying massage therapy and recreational management and more people doing STEM studies. So we have some challenges. Having said that, the Saudi royal families don’t send their boys or girls to madrassas in Pakistan; they send them here to the United States for schooling. When they need medical care, they come here. When they want to do banking, they come here.
So I think there’s a good argument that the foundation of U.S. power is mostly based on our value systems, our economy, and then, in a tertiary sense, on this immensely powerful armed force. I think most of that is still moving in the right direction.
20 Years from Now
What’s the major security challenge facing the United States? I would argue the principal challenge is our majors: the 04s of the Navy, Air Force, Army, Marines, Coast Guard. I say that because, as a general statement, the flag officers tend to manage and create and shape the military of the coming 20 years. They internalize some of these lessons, primarily at the grade of captain where they were immensely capable people, and they’re thinking the same thoughts 20 years later when they’re senior flag officers in charge of the armed forces and the situation won’t be the same.
You really have to be careful. What will the threats be that we will face in the future? The answer from a successful major is, we’re going to create the military force that could’ve won in Iraq and Afghanistan minus the nonsense of the way we actually intervened. We’ve got to think through that. What are we supposed to be doing 20 years from now?
That shouldn’t be a primary job of the flag officers; that’s the job of the commander in chief, the Secretary of Defense, and the U.S. Congress, and they’re not doing it. So it’s sort of a shallow debate. Pivoting to the Pacific: If the budget doesn’t follow the white paper, nothing’s actually happening.
Nuclear, Biological, Chemical and Cyber Warfare
Many of us my age, our entire life was involved with weapons of mass destruction, NBC—nuke, bio, chem. I did it from the grade of captain on. All of our military services had actively deployed nuclear devices, and we were prepared to use them. We had parallel universe of the PRP program and two-man control systems, and we rehearsed them, and we maintained separate institutions to control these weapons.
In the last 20 years, there is nobody in uniform or in Congress that wants to be seen as a proponent of nuke weapons, and the force is starting to lose its scientific and policy and training credibility. At some point in the future, whether that’s 10 years from now or 25 years, the really bright lieutenant colonels in Iran and elsewhere and North Korea will say, we don’t think that system of theirs works anymore.
There’s a book out right now that’s absolutely earth-shaking, unclassified information this clever writer got access to that talks about the declining state of the U.S. nuclear system. We just simply aren’t concentrating on it. I would argue the primary way you deal with nuclear devices isn’t to use them; it’s to have political, diplomatic, economic tools that stop the proliferation of these devices. But clearly, one piece of it is we have to have a credible, carefully controlled nuclear capability.
And then I think we have to talk about how we’re going to deal with biological and chemical weapons. During the first Gulf War, all of our military forces were completely capable of operating in a chemical environment with little reduction in our effectiveness. We could fight day and night, in full mop; we had the decontamination systems, the technology to deploy and fight in that environment. We weren’t going to use chemicals ourselves, as you know. That capability is now eroded. We’ve got to think through that.
Want to bring us to our knees? There’s only two credible ways to do it. Most of them are, fortunately, unlikely. Nuke weapons are very difficult to make; the technology’s not hard to understand, but developing fissile material, unless somebody sells you or you steal 40 kilograms of ATU, a nuke weapon is essentially not that tough to put together. When the Libyans turned over their program, it was astonishing how far a third-tier nation had come with a little help from the North Koreans and the Pakistanis.
But when it comes to biological weapons, that’s not the case. We had one—what we hope was one—mentally unstable scientist at Fort Detrick who made what at the time, if you remember the anthrax scare, we were calling weapons-grade anthrax material. You can go to a high school now in a large urban area, they’re doing gene splicing. So this technology is out there, and we’re, in my view, not investing adequately, and some of it is going to have to be government-operated facilities to develop the capability to deal with these outbreaks as they appear.
Next is cyber warfare. One of our challenges inside the U.S. armed forces, when you look at our programs, primarily if it’s cyber warfare we’re talking about, we do not, in my view, have the investment or the organizational strategy to confront what is the next major area of offensive warfare. We’ve still got some deterrent capabilities. The NSA is still the largest concentration of math PhDs on the face of the Earth, with a terrific and awesome offensive capability. I think that works when you’re working with most major potential belligerent powers, but it won’t work necessarily on terrorist organizations, rogue states, or individual attackers. We see constant attacks not just on DOD systems, but electronic reconnaissance throughout our economy. We’re not doing enough.
Borders and Immigration
The final thing I would underscore is our borders and immigration. I’d say that when the sun goes down at night, there are 12 million people living in this country who are here illegally—maybe more—and hundreds of thousands every year join them. Half of them don’t walk across the Rio Grande River; half of them come in by air and don’t go home.
You go to MIT now and look around the chemistry graduate school program or whatever, and it’s heavily foreign students. That’s the good news. We want them to stay. So what we have not done is adequately thought through doing two things at the same time, which is embracing widespread immigration and yet at the same time establishing controls, as most civilized nations do, over our borders, our airspace, the entry of students into the country. We just haven’t done it. We don’t have the manpower there.
When I started working on that border issue in 1996, there were a little over 4,000 people in the Border Patrol. That’s laughable. I started using a number of 45,000 people; all the Attorneys General were outraged for programmatic reasons and would ask me the intellectual underpinnings to my argument. I’d say, “Underpinnings? I just made the number up. What are you talking about?” It was the same number as the max strength of the NYPD. How could you possibly think you could control in a lawful manner the entry and exit of people across your frontiers if you didn’t have the technology and the manpower to do it?
We’ve got to think through that, and at the same time, it seems to me we have to recognize that the only reason we have this powerful agricultural economy still going is Central American and Mexican labor. It’s shameful that they don’t have minimum wage and OSHA safety standards and the ability to wire money home to their mother instead of going through a corrupt border system in Mexico. We have to think through control of our frontiers, without which we’ll be in trouble.
Questions & Answers
QUESTION: You mentioned that public confidence remained high for our armed services. As the military continues to deal with budget cuts, how can the public, politicians, and military leadership ensure that confidence levels remain high?
General McCaffrey: I think we’re in a self-destructive cycle. It’s the damnedest thing I’ve ever seen. I’ve been associated with business now for 12 years; there is no enterprise of 50 employees or more that’s run as illogically as the federal government. It is simply astonishing.
For seven years, we’ve barely ever had any one of the 12 appropriations bills passed before the start of the fiscal year. That’s the blueprint. If you’re dealing with continuing resolutions, that’s funding at the same level as last year for the same program, so startups that you’re trying to innovate with don’t get money, and in theory you continue funding programs you may decide to shut down. It is outrageous. Never mind sequestration, which in the first year was devastating. Half of our F-15 squadrons taxi down to the end of the runway and back.
The reason they’re doing that is you take a short-range reduction, which would be entirely doable, but if you do it in the first year, you can’t touch BRAC, you can’t fire military people in uniform, you can’t get rid of civilian organizations, but you can cut their pay 20 percent. The only place you can find lots of money is maintenance and training, and if you do that, six months into the fiscal year, the leverage was simply astonishing. Then, of course, there was a corresponding overreaction by the Department of Defense, which exacerbated the problem.
I don’t know how they’re going to break out of this. I listened to both sides of that debate. It used to be that good politics was good governance. Now I think both of those political parties on sequestration at a minimum think it’s bad for the country, but they can unload it on the other political party. It is shameful behavior.
I might add that the Administration hasn’t turned in a believable budget in the entire time they’ve been in office either. There’s been no attempt to actually face these problems and say, if we’re going to cut down the resources, where do we do it logically? Never mind address the entitlement programs—Medicare, Social Security, Medicaid.
I remind people that the DOD budget was 4.7 percent of GNP. That’s the smallest expenditure of resources in any of the country’s wars in our history. World War II, it was 36 percent of GNP; Korea and Vietnam were in the teens. That’s not what’s bankrupting the country: It’s unsustainable entitlement programs as a general rule.
George Nicholson: One of the things that Admiral Mullen continues to talk about is that the biggest threat to national security is the national debt. CSIS [Center for Strategic and International Studies] had a major event about a year ago that was hosted by Sam Nunn and had the two chairmen of the two debt commissions, Alan Simpson and Robert Rubin; he also had Secretary James Baker. They went down the same line. Do you agree that the biggest threat to national security right now is the national debt?
General McCaffrey: I would probably hide behind my argument that I barely understand how the U.S. economy works.
Certainly, in the long term, it’s a matter of arithmetic. In the long term, if you don’t have some logical way of explaining resource expenditure versus taxation, it won’t work. As everyone in the room knows, this is unsustainable more than 90 days without the global community investing in our rolling over the national debt. I see no way for them to actually use that as a lever against them. It’s like setting off a hand grenade in a tent between you and your opponent. So that will continue.
Having said that, the major challenges on the budget, again, aren’t like Mullen’s DOD budget. There’s Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid—our retirement system. If I grab three smart engineers out of the room and give them five work days, you can come up with a plan to solve those problems. Most of them are three variable problems. Social Security, you get more money or less, you can pay more into it or less, you can get earlier or later.
You know, we routinely ask bridge design engineers to solve multivariate problems. The difficulty is, the political class has to then go to the American people and explain that you’re getting less and you’re getting more, and they’re unwilling to do that. Obviously, there has to be an adjustment in taxation. The Tea Party got born, in my view, because it was deemed not credible that our government would ever solve these problems.
I don’t know. The one problem we have right now, in my view, is our governance, which lacks pragmatic, coherent long-term planning. They weren’t ever very good at it for the last 200 years, but now it’s been shameful.
Ray Walser: We have seen Uruguay begin to legalize marijuana; we’ve had the two referendums in Colorado and Washington and are now going into the implementation process. Without going into a long preamble, where do you see drug policy going in the rest of the Obama Administration?
General McCaffrey: I spend maybe a third of my time in one way or another involved in that issue still. I’m on the board of directors of the National Drug Court system—we’ve got 3,000 or so drug courts, thank God. We’re now starting veterans treatment courts.
I spend a lot of time particularly in effective science-based drug and alcohol treatment, and it’s pretty reassuring. We’ll do better with alcoholism and drug addiction than we do with currently available therapies for oncology, but we actually know how to get people into sobriety and maintain it.
Most of us don’t have a drug or alcohol problem. The worst in modern times was around 13 percent of the country were past-month drug users. Now it’s probably 7 percent. For 13 years, we had adolescent drug use going down every year. For the last four years, it’s been going up every year.
A lot of that is the end result, in my view, of a debate in which I used to say there are 200 or 300 people in the country that wanted to normalize the use of illegal drugs. The lead drug was marijuana, but the philosophy behind it was to say, “Look, this is Darwinian, this is libertarian. If you want to use methamphetamines, until you actually break into my house and steal all my electronics, I don’t want to do anything about it.” We’re moving in that direction. I think it’s a disaster.
I deal with these guys in treatment; it’s poly drug abuse. It’s alcohol—always the most destructive drug we have—combined with other drugs. We get them into recovery on cocaine, and they’ll move to another drug. So what we care about is a drugged, dazed lifestyle in which you’re having legal, medical, social, and work-related problems. Once you’re chronically addicted, it is a nightmare.
Pick a number: Probably 20 million of us in the country have a substance abuse problem. I called the Attorney General and talked to him about it before the election. I told him essentially we’ve acquiesced in not enforcing existing federal law. It’s also an international treaty. Astonishing what’s going on. Bad news.
I watched it happen in Seattle, and I saw the former FBI Special Agent in Charge that I had worked with was on pro-marijuana ads along with the U.S. attorney, Kate Pflaumer. I think the political class looked at the polling data, and there’s probably 15 percent of the country that will vote drug legalization as the dominant issue. They’ll vote for you or against you depending on your stance. I think a lot of them said this was going in the wrong direction and didn’t want to stand in front of a train.
No leadership. Vice President Biden—a friend, a terrific public servant—hasn’t said a peep about this issue while he’s been in office. So I think a lot of harm is going to come from it, and it may be irreversible.
Go look at the work by Dr. Kevin Sabet. He’s a young guy: I told people we need a new face on it. We need a new generation to address this, so he’s doing some very fine work. Until you sit in a drug court on a Monday morning and see what happens to your children when they’re chronically addicted to drugs, you haven’t begun to appreciate the problem.
QUESTION: One way the U.S. military hopes to cut its costs is by eliminating some of its overseas bases. What message does this send to our allies, and what message does it send to our adversaries?
General McCaffrey: It’s amazing to watch us. We grab a concept mindlessly and promote it.
I thought bringing the armed forces home from Europe and their families was a fundamental error. It was cheaper to keep them there with NATO paying for the infrastructure. They were closer to likely deployment opportunities, to include the Middle East, than they are in Fort Riley, Kansas. If you think you’re going to save a ton of money bringing our families home and the troops home, you’ve got to explain to me how you’re going to pay for the air and naval power to get them back to the target area.
So I thought it was a fundamental error, and it was sort of a momentum. There’s no Congressman voting for a base in Korea, but I’d be astonished if we don’t end up off Okinawa, out of South Korea, out of Europe almost entirely.
Our forward presence in and of itself has military value. We’re now going to rotate a brigade through Korea as sort of a short-term fix. If you ask me where tomorrow afternoon a major war could start with almost no prompting, it would be the Korean peninsula. So having a statement of a forward-deployed presence, particularly air and naval power, is very important to us. We’re bringing them home.
QUESTION: My question is about personnel issues in the U.S. military. Recently in the news, there were reports about sexual assaults in the military, and some people think that these complaints should be taken out of the chain of command. What’s your take on this issue?
General McCaffrey: First of all, 14 percent of the U.S. armed forces are now women. We’ve had 152 killed in action and over 1,000 wounded in action. When you look at them statistically as a group, they’re better soldiers than men are—less indiscipline. Personal courage is absolutely not a factor. They’ve been a tremendous additive capability to the force, and it’s moving, generally speaking, in the right direction. They’re all volunteers, by the way, the men and the women.
I went and saw a very senior official in the Department of Defense about the 26,000 sexual assaults figure. Part of this was not just from being a commander in the armed forces, but having a daughter who’s a major in the armed forces. I would argue that the U.S. armed forces are the most dignified, safe, and responsible place for a young woman of any institution in our society—far more so than major university campuses, where you’ve got young people unsupervised with alcohol.
When we looked at that study on sexual assault, they categorized in one clump military sexual trauma, which included unwanted language up through forcible assault. They extrapolated and got 3,000 responses to their survey; more men than women complained of military sexual trauma—which was swept off the table, I might add—and then they extrapolated from there and came up with 26,000 sexual assaults. It’s a bogus figure. They know it. They don’t want to stand in front of the train on that one either.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who is, I’m sure, a sincere, talented woman, has no clue what she’s talking about, and it’s really a tremendous challenge to the force. Obviously, we want the chain of command to be held accountable for all their soldiers, men and women, and I think we’ll get that out of it. So we’re in a period of ideological warfare right now. I see it all the time; I had some guy come up to me, said his daughter had just gotten an appointment to Annapolis and was it safe for her to go there. It breaks my heart to hear this kind of language. Of course it’s safe for your girl to go to Annapolis.
We’ve got to think through this. I’m disappointed the chain of command hasn’t stepped forward and said something about it. The Chief of Staff of the Army said the number one mission of the United States Army was to combat sexual harassment. We’ve got 65,000 troops in combat in Afghanistan. Normally we puzzle through this at the end of the day, but the biggest conclusion I would leave you with is, I’ve seen these troops in combat in Iraq or Afghanistan every year I’ve been in the combat zone. They are doing a phenomenal job. They’re flying attack helicopters, they get shot, they continue with the mission, they’re getting Silver Stars in combat. They’re a huge additive capability, and their four-star admiral, a woman, and four-star Army general are going to help manage this big force.
QUESTION: By some accounts, upwards of two-thirds of young men and women wouldn’t be eligible for military service. Does that concern you at all for the future of the force?
General McCaffrey: It’s a good comment. Essentially, we recruit young men from the top 15 percent of the country. We had three bad years during the height of Iraq where my take at the time was that 10 percent of the people we were bringing into the Army shouldn’t have been in uniform, but that was a momentary challenge we had as the credibility of the fighting in Iraq deteriorated. Boys and girls were telling each other, “Don’t go in the Army; don’t go in the Marine Corps.” We had a problem, but by and large, the top 15 percent of young men—no felony arrests, psychiatric screen, etc.—and top 10 percent of young women.
We’re after the same kids that are going to go to George Mason University, and we’re getting them. You can see it in the field. They are unbelievably competent and capable and team players. By the way, I always remind people, now we’re running 59,000 killed and wounded. Some of these units get 10, 20, 25 percent killed and wounded during a deployment depending on where they are and what period of these wars. So they’re really phenomenal.
Now we get them in, there’s another problem. This is a new generation: They’re couch potatoes. They’re using electronic games and communication. They don’t phone each other, they don’t meet, they don’t get driver’s licenses. They talk to each other in texts and tweets and toofs and whatever. They’re on too many medications. So we get them into Fort Leonard Wood or Jackson or the other basic training places, and we have to get them off their meds and toughen them up. We’re running some preliminary programs to get them physically fit. There’s a change of that, though. You go to Fort Benning and look at the infantry One Station Unit Training course, and you’re looking at America’s lacrosse and soccer teams and football teams. They are unbelievably physically fit kids.
The reason they enlisted in the Marine Corps or Special Ops or direct enlistment for the Ranger regiment or for the 82nd Airborne is they want to fight. That’s why they came in. The armed forces are being portrayed now widely as a victim of 12 years of combat. Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is real; traumatic brain injury, TBI, is new and real. You wouldn’t have survived an improvised explosive device blast of 300 kilograms of explosives on a vehicle IED in another war, and now, because of body armor and Mine-Resistant Ambush Protected vehicles and unbelievable medical care, we keep people alive.
So these new phenomena are there, but to try and put these things in context, suicide rates in the armed forces tend to be barely above the civilian counterpart of the same age. It’s gone up over 50 percent in the last decade, and so has the suicide rate in America. Why is that?
PTSD, we’ve seen this in every war we’ve fought. If you get both your feet blown off and you’re partially blind, the difference now is that the soldier who’s so damaged has a wife and a two-year-old, and the payment out of the VA system will be $1,200 a month. Medically retired E4, 82nd Airborne Division, the amount of money we’re giving to his kids is barely adequate—I got this from one of their wives—to pay the cab fee to his ongoing treatment in Bethesda.
So we’ve got to rethink traumatic and PTSD injuries. We’re being rolled on this. Your armed forces is the healthiest institution in American society.
QUESTION: Especially with Colonel McGinley sponsoring the lecture here, this being the McGinley Lecture sponsored by the Marine Corps Foundation, it’s interesting that we have a four-star Army general presenting this. Could you comment on the evolution of the joint force since you’ve been commissioned and the working together of the armed forces and how you see that going forward in the future?
General McCaffrey: That’s a great way to phrase that. I was an Army strategic planner right after the great new law, Goldwater–Nichols, was passed against the determined opposition of all the chiefs of services. I remember the Army War College student, the chief of staff of the Army, a wonderful man, telling us why he was going to commit hara-kiri before he’d see that passed. Then I was a strategic planner, and I remember I had three colonels whose job it was to prop up my weak spine, and they’d send me down as the operations deputy to the tank on these debates.
When I was to go down there and prevent Admiral William Crowe from this horrific thing he was about to do, I said, “What’s the horrific thing?” He said, “He’s going to start signing documents as the chairman instead of for the Joint Chiefs of Staff. I did what I normally do, which is read the document in particular, and said, “You know, it appears that the law allows him to do that. I’m not quite sure why I should be so determined in my opposition to the good admiral.”
I was in Ramadi, and there was an Army brigade that had been handed over to the Marines—Stryker Brigade, if I remember. One of the battalion task forces was an Army battalion with four Marine rifle companies. There was another Marine battalion that had three Army companies attached to it.
As a general statement, the joint force actually works now at every level. People are comfortable putting their forces under the command of a different service. It’s been a real multiplier, and I think it’s going to be even more important as we see this force get put at risk by its size.
I feel very good about where that joint doctrine and interoperability have gone, mostly under the pressure of real-world combat, which is a great equalizer.